Archaeologists work to uncover Belen’s first church

New Mexico

BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – The remnants of Belen’s first Catholic church have been buried underground for more than 150 years. A team of archeologists just wrapped up a dig on the site, with hopes to come back for years to come.

To the east of the train tracks, behind a house, sits the site of Belen’s first church, Nuestra Senora de Belen. “The church was built in 1793,” said Dr. Ventura Perez of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

But a series of floods destroyed the church, more than a hundred years ago. Dr. Perez is working along with several professors from universities across the country, to uncover what lies beneath the ground. “It’s very possible that the gazebo is sitting on top of the surface and the entrance of the church,” he said.

The group is trying to find the church floor, so they can then remove and protect burials that are at risk. “That’s part of the challenge of doing archeology in a neighborhood, where all this construction has taken place,” said Dr. Perez.

This summer’s dig just wrapped up, but Perez says for the last 100 years, human remains have been coming to the surface. “There were close to 5,000 burials here between 1793 and 1900,” he said.

This year, bones are all the group found, but it’s giving them insight into a community that was here more than a century ago. “What we’ll be doing is called a biological profile of all of the individuals to get their life history…that may tell us how they died, but more importantly how they lived,” Perez said.

The professors plan to come back next year to continue their dig. They say it could take three to five years to complete the excavation.

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